Healing through Writing or Drawing and Empathic Responding




Laurie Anne Pearlman, Ph.D. and Ervin Staub, Ph.D.


Copyright 1999 by Trauma, Research, Education and Training Institute, Inc.



Research and clinical experience show that writing about painful experiences helps people heal.


The process


This process includes three elements: writing or drawing, speaking, and listening.


These three elements are done in four steps:


1. People write or draw (or think) about painful things that have happened to them, how they felt about those experiences, and how they understand or make sense of the experience.


2. They then talk with a partner about what they have written.


3. The partner listens empathically.


4. They may then share what they have written or drawn with the larger group.


Natural responses to traumatic or painful experiences


Most people prefer to avoid thinking about difficult things.


People often withdraw from others when they have been hurt or traumatized.


Avoiding pain actually keeps it alive longer than facing it.


Engaging with our pain


Talking with someone who listens without judging or persuading can help.


People often feel worse when they first engage with (write or draw about) their pain. But over time, both their physical and mental health improve.





Sharing or talking with others


It can feel scary (or frightening) to write, draw, and talk about your most private

People often find that others feel many of the same feelings.

The process of talking to others about difficult experiences helps to restore human connection, which is often broken through violence.

Empathic listening


Empathic listening means opening one's heart and mind to another person. Listening in this way can also help listeners begin to feel their own pain and thus take steps in their own healing.


It's not always easy to listen without judging or giving advice. The person listening may feel the need to do something, to help. But listening quietly, with compassion in our hearts, is generally far more helpful than giving advice.


Sometimes listening to someone else's pain activates our own pain. We may feel the need to protect ourselves by distancing or creating differences between ourselves and the other person. That distance keeps both people from healing.

How is it done?


Getting started:

      Explain to people the rationale for this process: that (1) writing or drawing about something painful and (2) talking with others about it are helpful in healing.

      Explain empathic listening: nonjudgmental, open, not advice, supportive comments like "It sounds like that was very difficult or painful for you."

      Invite the group to ask questions or discuss.


      The group will need to talk about how to choose a partner for the sharing part of the exercise. It's easiest to work with someone you already know and trust. And we grow when we are able to begin to talk and begin to build trust with someone new. There is no right or wrong choice here. Each person may choose to work with someone familiar or someone new, as he or she prefers.















Healing through writing summary.doc September 1.1999

Filename: C:\My Documents\Healing through writing summary.doc